Wednesday, December 15, 2010

OLIVE OIL 101




Olive oil is the fruit oil obtained from the olive. Commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps and fuel for lamps, olive oil is grown and used throughout the world but especially in the Mediterranean.

Olive oil is produced by grinding or crushing and extracting the oil. A green olive produces bitter oil and an overripe olive produces rancid oil. For great extra virgin olive oil it is essential to have olives that are perfectly ripened.

Purchasing olive oil and knowing how to use it can be confusing. Add to that, the kashrut factor and it is no wonder that consumers and home cooks are bewildered by the array of products on supermarket and specialty market shelves.

Here is a summary of olive oils and their uses:
• Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity. Extra Virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries. The superior fruity flavor makes this oil best used for vinaigrettes, drizzling on soups, pastas for added richness and a fruity taste and for dipping breads and vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil does not require hashgacha (even for Pesach) as it is cold pressed.
• Virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 2%. This oil is best used for sautéing and for making vinaigrettes. It is generally not as expensive as the extra virgin olive oil but has a good taste. Does require hashgacha.
• Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil. This oil is perfect for sautéing. It does not have a strong flavor and can be used for making aiolis and cooking. Does require hasgacha.

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil. It is typically more expensive than other olive oils. Extra virgin olive oil is typically not recommended for high heat cooking. Every oil has a smoke point. A smoke point refers to the heat temperature at which the oil begins to break down and degrade. An oil that is above its smoke point not only has nutritional and flavor degradation but can also reach a flash point where combustion can occur. You can observe this when you have a very hot pan and hot oil and food is added to the pan and it produces a bluish and acrid smelling smoke or worse yet, catches fire.

Extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point of 375. I use my best extra virgin olive oil for making vinaigrettes, adding luxurious fruity flavor to pasta dishes, garnishing foods, baking and dipping breads.
Extra virgin olive oil has a long list of health benefits from reducing coronary artery disease and cholesterol regulation.

My favorite extra virgin olive oil is an unfiltered oil from Spain. It is rich, luscious and smells like artichokes and tomatoes. I recently tasted an oil from France that was rich and buttery. Olive oils like wines have a distinct taste or terroir depending upon where they are grown. I urge home cooks to shop the specialty and gourmet shops for their olive oil. The supermarket oils are often lacking in flavor and are frequently misleading in the origin of the olives. The bottle may say that the oil was bottled in Italy but not mention where the olives were grown. The olives could have come from many different countries and in different stages of ripeness which yields an off tasting oil.
Estate grown oils are picked at the perfect stage of ripeness and pressed right after harvest. This ensures a balanced oil that is luscious.

Baking with olive oil is easy and yields a moist delicious cake. I use Meyer lemons in this recipe. Meyer Lemons are a cross between a tangerine and a lemon. They are sweet and very juicy. They are in season now and can be found at most markets around the country.




MEYER LEMON-OLIVE OIL POUND CAKE

1 cup olive oil
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 tablespoon Meyer Lemon zest
¼ cup Meyer Lemon juice
¾ cup
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a tube pan and set aside.
1. Whisk together olive oil, sugar, eggs and milk.
2. Gently stir in flour, salt and baking powder until a thick batter forms.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 50-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Lemon Glaze
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup water
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons light corn syrup or brown rice syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla bean, scraped
1. Simply combine all ingredients together in a large and heavy saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until the mixture reaches 110 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
2. Pour evenly over cooled cake and allow to harden before serving.

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